Daines Presses Forest Service Chief on Forest Reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today called on the U.S. Forest Service to work together with Congress to move forward common sense forest management reforms to responsibly increase timber harvests, create good-paying jobs and improve forest health across Montana.

During today’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the U.S. Forest Service budget request for Fiscal Year 2016, Daines pressed Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell on the effect of litigation on Montana National Forest timber output, the need for effective implementation of the Farm Bill’s forest management provisions, and ongoing efforts to grow timber jobs for hardworking Montanans.

“Montana used to boast of a robust timber economy. However, since the late 1980s, harvests on our National Forests are down 82 percent and we’ve lost now nearly 30 mills,” Daines stated. “In fact, of our 11 surviving mills, many mill workers are facing layoffs or reduced hours. As we look at strong demand in the lumber industry, we can’t get enough logs. Meanwhile, our National Forests suffer from insect infestation, overgrowth, and risk to catastrophic wildfire. The deteriorating health of Montana’s National Forests jeopardizes our public safety, our watersheds, undermines recreation and hunting and frankly is harmful to habitat.”

In the hearing, Daines pointed out the implications of fringe lawsuits on the responsible management of Montana’s National Forests and highlighted the severe effects that diminished timber output has had on Montana’s economy.

Tidwell agreed with Daines on the impact of litigation, emphasizing that lawsuits divert Forest Service staffing resources and slow down the development of new timber projects.   

“The litigation definitely does impact and it’s not just the litigation. When we get a temporary restraining order, we have to stop and wait,” Tidwell said. “Every time we get a lawsuit, the same staff that would be preparing for the next project, they have to prepare to go to court.”

Tidwell highlighted the Colt Summit project as an example where a litigious situation held up a widely supported project. Delays eventually forced F.H. Stolze Land and Lumber – Montana’s oldest family-owned saw mill – to reduce production hours and lay off several millworkers.  

“The Colt Summit, a couple years ago, we had really tremendous support across the board from the conservation community, the environmental community, and of course the county and the state. Then, we got sued and we went through the process, yes we finally implemented the project but it took another year or so to do it,” Tidwell stated.

Daines secured a commitment from Chief Tidwell that the Forest Service would work together with local leaders and stakeholders in order to find workable solutions that increase responsible timber harvests while improving forest health across Montana.

The 2014 Farm Bill contained a provision that allowed state governors to designate priority management areas on National Forests. With Daines’ support, Montana Governor Steve Bullock designated five million acres of National Forest acres that the Forest Service is now eligible to manage under streamlined processes. Daines urged the Forest Service to move more quickly in utilizing these authorities.

Last week, Daines held roundtables on forest management reform across Montana and met with local stakeholders to gather feedback, ideas and concerns on forest management reform. As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Daines will play a key role in legislative efforts to improve the management of National Forests and address the economic challenges facing counties with large amounts of National Forest land.

Video of Senator Daines’ questioning is available here.